Twelve agricultural, defense and repair worker groups filed a lawsuit last week with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, claiming farm equipment maker Deere & Company unlawfully refused to supply the software and data techniques needed to repair its machines.
Groups include the National Farmers Union, Iowa Farmers Union, Missouri Farmers Union, Montana Farmers Union, Nebraska Farmers Union, Ohio Farmers Union, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Farm Action, US Public Interest Research Group, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, the Digital Coalition for the Right to Repair and iFixit.
They claim that Deere & Company has more than 50% of the agricultural machinery market in the United States and deliberately restricted access to its diagnostic software and other information needed to repair its products in violation of the Sherman Act and laws covering unfair and deceptive trade practices. . And they are calling on the FTC to intervene to end these practices.
“Deere is the dominant force in the $68 billion U.S. agricultural equipment market, controlling more than 50% of the market for large tractors and combines,” said Jamie Crooks, attorney for Fairmark Partners, which represents the groups. agriculture and repair, in a preface. to the complaint [PDF].
“For many farmers and ranchers, they effectively have no choice but to buy their equipment from Deere. Not content with dominating the equipment market alone, Deere has sought to leverage its power over this market to monopolize the repair market for this equipment, to the detriment of farmers, ranchers and independent repairers.”
The right to repair shifts into high gear
Objections to Deere & Company’s practices, part of a broader pushback against the digital lock protections built into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, go back many years. Initially the province of cyber freedoms campaigners like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, digital repair issues have captured the attention of lawmakers in the US, UK and Europe.
In January, Deere & Company was hit with two lawsuits, one in Illinois and the other in Alabama, over the company’s repair restrictions, and US President Joe Biden voiced his support for rights of repair. Then, in February, U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced separate bills to secure the right to repair.
When states began considering right to repair legislation in 2018, Deere & Company, through an affiliated trade organization, said that by January 1, 2021, it would provide tools through the intermediary of authorized dealers “to enable farmers and ranchers to perform basic services, maintenance and repairs on their equipment.”
Crooks observes that 2021 has come and gone without this commitment being fulfilled. Instead, Deere & Company only provides repair information if farmers and ranchers pay thousands of dollars upfront for a service called Customer Service Advisor, which still doesn’t allow them to perform repairs themselves. even routine repairs. Citing this misrepresentation, the complaint asks the FTC to intervene.
The legal filing cites several examples of the impact Deere & Company’s practices have had on farmers. He recounts how Jared Wilson, a farmer near Butler, Mo., encountered a mechanical valve failure on a Deere fertilizer spreader that sent the machine into “limp mode” until the code was released. software error can be resolved by an authorized Deere technician. Wilson had to take his equipment to the dealership and wait 32 days for a repair, resulting in an estimated loss of $30,000 to $60,000 because he couldn’t use the machinery.
Additionally, the complaint states that it appears that Deere & Company collects data from farmers and uses that information to provide optimization techniques to other farmers, thereby eroding potential points of competitive differentiation among its customers.
“These are techniques that farmers have developed and keep secret for a competitive advantage over their rivals,” the complaint states. “But if they’re using a Deere machine with JDLink, farmers reveal those techniques for Deere to benefit from.”
The FTC filing also suggests a rationale for Deere & Company’s behavior: it alleges that the repair business is three to six times more profitable than the farm machinery sales business.
Deere & Company did not respond to a request for comment. ®